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How to Stay Healthy While Traveling Internationally

Planning a vacation? Consider these tips to stay healthy while traveling.

By Juli Curtis BSN, RN 

Traveling is an exciting and rewarding experience but can also be exhausting and take a toll on your health. International travel can be even more taxing, as you may experience different climates, foods, and other unfamiliar conditions. Staying healthy while traveling internationally is essential to having an enjoyable and safe journey. In this blog post, we will look at some tips on how to stay healthy while traveling abroad. 

Planning is key to enjoying a great vacation. Use these strategies to stay healthy while traveling and have a fantastic time.
Planning is key to having a great vacation. Follow these tips to stay healthy while traveling. Photo: AdobeStock

Key strategies to stay healthy while traveling

Since preparation is key, start by choosing the right travel destination. Working with a AAA Washington travel agent is a great way to create a personalized itinerary suited to your specific interests, medical needs, and physical capabilities. Take advantage of this resource, as anyone (including non-members) can use a AAA Washington travel agent.  

At least six weeks before your departure, schedule an appointment with your primary doctor for an exam and to address any potential travel health concerns. Also, talk with your doctor about traveler’s diarrhea to see if prescription medication is right for you.  

Decide with your doctor if you need compression socks. Compression socks create gentle pressure on your legs, improving blood flow from your legs back to your heart. Some travelers wear them during extended periods of sitting to reduce the risk of swelling and blood clots. 

Consider seeing a doctor specializing in travel to advise you on immunizations and help you prepare the proper documents. Verify that you are up to date on routine vaccines and boosters. Determine if your destination requires additional travel vaccinations and receive them at least one month before departure.

Each traveler should pack a medical history, including allergies, surgeries, and a list of prescription medications. Store this information in your everyday bag in the event of a medical emergency. 

Research shows that 66% of all American adults take prescriptions, and continuing these medications while traveling is vital. Pack prescription medications in the original labeled containers in carry-on bags in case of delay or damage to checked luggage. Don’t forget non-oral medications, including inhalers, diabetic supplies, and epi-pens. Bring copies of all written prescriptions with refills available so you can replace them if lost or stolen. 

Some countries prohibit certain medications, so learning about your destination’s banned medicines before you travel is essential. Check with the embassy of the country you are visiting and the embassies of any layover countries to ensure they allow your medications and supplements.

Women walking on the beach. Follow these tips to stay healthy while traveling abroad.
Comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and a water bottle are a few of the most useful items you should pack for local and international vacations. Photo: AdobeStock

Most common health issues during international travel

International travel experiences can be stressful on your body with long hours, activity-filled days, and unfamiliar foods. Though not life-threatening, the following symptoms can turn an anticipated adventure into a disappointing ordeal: 

  • Motion sickness 
  • Swelling 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Constipation 
  • Blisters 
  • Sunburn 
  • Dehydration 
  • Viral infections  
  • Sprains 
  • Nausea 
  • Allergic reactions 
  • Travelers diarrhea 
Young girls begin a vacation. Plan wisely, follow these tips to stay healthy while traveling, and have a safe and enjoyable journey.
Plan wisely, follow these tips to stay healthy while traveling, and have a safe and enjoyable journey! Photo: AdobeStock

What to pack to stay health while traveling and exploring new destinations 

Imagine getting blisters, sunburned, and dehydrated on the first day in a new country. The resulting discomfort could last for days. Comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, a hat, and a water bottle are a few of the most useful items you should pack. 

Other minor ailments can occur, so prepare to treat them quickly by including the following in your travel health kit: 

  • Band-Aids in multiple sizes 
  • Anti-diarrheal medication, such as Imodium or Pepto-Bismol 
  • Medicine for traveler’s diarrhea, if prescribed 
  • Rehydration tablets to replace fluid loss from diarrhea or vomiting 
  • Gas tablets 
  • Antacids 
  • Anti-itch cream for rashes or bug bites 
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergy relief 
  • Pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) 
  • Antibiotic ointment for minor wounds 
  • Over-the-counter cold and flu medicine 
  • Motion sickness remedies such as Dramamine (dimenhydrinate) or Bonine (meclizine) 
Female tourist enjoys the view in Quebec City
Traveling is an exciting and rewarding experience but can also be exhausting and take a toll on your health. Consider these tips to help you stay healthy while traveling and have a wonderful trip. Photo: AdobeStock

7 tips to stay healthy while traveling abroad

  1. Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, improve jet lag, and avoid constipation. Inquire about the local water supply; if there is any question, only drink bottled water. Additionally, avoid ice, which is likely made with local water.  
  1. Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer often. 
  1. Apply insect repellent, as bugs can carry many illnesses, including malaria, Zika virus, and yellow fever.  
  1. Only eat fully cooked and hot foods while opting for bottled or canned drinks. Avoid raw produce that may have been washed with tap water. Fruits with thick skins that you peel yourself, such as citrus or bananas, are typically safe. 
  1. Get up and walk or stretch during lengthy transports to keep your blood flowing and decrease stiffness in your joints.  
  1. Avoid drinking excessive alcohol. Intoxication increases your risk of injury, illness, and vulnerability to crime. 
  1. Be aware of your surroundings. International travel often requires walking on uneven surfaces like cobblestones or dirt, making it easy to twist an ankle or fall. Also, doorways in historic buildings are usually low, so watch your head. 

In an emergency 

Despite the best preparation, emergencies do happen. Ocean-going cruise ships typically have an infirmary with doctors and nurses on board to treat minor injuries and other illnesses. River cruises are close enough to shore to access medical help if needed. 

In advance, identify resources for help in case you need medical attention. Flight staff, hotel personnel, or your tour guide are good options and rest assured, most populated international areas have modern medical care. 

Keep your medical and medication lists with you in the event that you are not able to provide information. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states, “The nearest US embassy or consulate can help travelers locate medical services and notify your friends, family, or employer of an emergency.” 

Remember, in most cases, Medicare does not reimburse medical expenses outside the United States and U.S. territories. Protect yourself by purchasing Allianz travel insurance with AAA Washington. This coverage can safeguard against medical costs and trip cancellations due to illness and injury. You can relax and enjoy your vacation knowing you are protected. 

There are many details in preparing for international vacations, and your plan to stay healthy while traveling is one of the most important. Plan wisely, follow these tips, and have a safe and enjoyable journey!

—Written by Juli Curtis, BSN, RN

—Top photo: AdobeStock

Juli Curtis BSN, RN is a freelance health and wellness writer and the owner of Write Health Right Now, LLC. She has been a nurse for over 30 years and enjoys travel, interesting food, and nonfiction. She lives near Little Rock, AR with her boxers Manny and Rizzo. 


To learn more about how to stay healthy while traveling, click here.

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